Leo Messi's rivals for the Ballon d'Or

The Argentina captain is now the outright favourite to win the prize following his Copa América success

| sport

Jordi Carné

The European Championship and the Copa América have clarified some doubts regarding the fight for the Ballon d'Or. While there were no clear favourites for the prestigious award by the end of the 2020-21 domestic season, the two summer tournaments have answered some questions and brought new contenders into the fray. After an excellent season with Barça, albeit only winning the Copa del Rey, Messi's Argentina won the Copa América this weekend. He is now the favourite for the individual award.

If nothing changes between now and the end of the year, Barcelona's number 10 is likely to pick up the seventh Ballon d'Or of his career. On an individual and collective level, he is the best placed contender for the prize given to the world's best player. While other players are in with a shout, it is difficult to find someone who has such an influence over the play of their domestic and international sides, such efficiency in front of goal and such success in terms of trophies. Below are the candidates for this year's award.

Leo Messi – 34 years old

Over the course of the 2021-21 season, Messi notched 44 goals and provided 19 assists. He also lifted the Copa del Rey with Barça and his first Copa América with Argentina. While his team did not win the competition, he was also the top scorer in LaLiga Santander. The only negative is his side's early elimination from the Champions League in the quarter final stage. However, it should be noted that this is a Barça team at the beginning of a new cycle, and Messi is paying the price for this. He's been one of the world's best players for many years, yet is still capable of blowing us away with something new in every game he plays.

Messi celebra un gol con el Barça

| AFP

Neymar Jr – 29 years old

Although he failed to win Ligue 1 for the first time since signing for PSG, crashed out of the Champions League in the semi-finals against Manchester City and lost to Argentina in the final of the Copa América for Brazil, it is clear that Neymar is one of the best players on the planet. After maturing as a player and also as a person, he has registered good numbers (24 goals and 18 assists) and lifted the French Cup. Like his friend Leo, he is a real leader. He doesn't shirk responsibility and, for the most part, lives up to his high expectations.

Neymar, durante el Brasil - Perú.

| EFE

Kylian Mbappé – 22 years old

The PSG star hasn't had the best season. Rumours about his future have led to lots of media attention surrounding the 22-year-old starlet. Despite having an incredible future ahead of him, there is still lots of room to improve. France's poor performance in the European Championships, in which is was unable to live up to its status as favourites, will count against Mbappé in the fight for the Ballon d'Or. For his club and country, the young striker has scored 44 goals and registered 14 assists.

El futuro de Mbappé sigue en el aire

| EFE

Gianluigi Donnarumma – 22 years old

He is one of the names of the summer. Italy's hero, with two penalty-stopping masterclasses against Spain (semi-finals) and England (final), was the outstanding player of the tournament, showing that he is living up to his great potential. Following the conclusion of his contract with AC Milan, Donnarumma will sign for French club PSG in the coming days. This signing is capable of defining a generation for PSG.

Donnarumma, héroe de Italia

| EFE

Robert Lewandowski – 32 years old

The Champions League quarter finals would have been very different had Lewandowski not missed them through injury. The Polish striker was unable to help Bayern Munich to their second consecutive European Cup, but his 48 goals and 9 assists helped them to their ninth Bundesliga title on the bounce, in addition to the German and European super cups. The winner of the last European Golden Boot, whose national side were unable to pull up any trees at the Euros, is another candidate for the Ballon d'Or. However, the fact that his teams came up short in the fight for competitions will probably work against him this year.

Robert Lewandowski en la Eurocopa

| EFE

Harry Kane – 27 years old

He is one of the best strikers in the world, and this summer he has proved that he is far more than just a goalscorer. He remains a predator in the box, but he also contributes in many other ways to help the team. The first name on the team sheet for his country, who finished second in Euro 2020, Kane registered 37 goals and 19 assists in a difficult season for Tottenham, who finished the season in seventh place. Kane is looking to move on to pastures new and join a club where he can challenge for trophies. In addition to Sunday's loss, Kane also ended up on the losing team in the 2019 Champions League final.

Kane celebrando uno de sus goles ante Ucrania

| EFE

Karim Benzema – 33 years old

Benzema played a starring role for Real Madrid last season, going far in both LaLiga and the Champions League. He also had a significant impact upon his return to the French national side, getting on the score sheet four times in Euro 2020. He also registered good numbers for Real Madrid, with 30 goals and 9 assists. Benzema has developed in the opposite way to Kane. Before, he was appreciated for everything he gave to the team, but wasn't a prolific goalscorer. Last season, however, he became a predator in and around the box. Without Benzema's contributions, Zidane's side would have struggled to compete at the highest level.

Benzema seguirá en el Real Madrid hasta 2023

| EFE

Jorginho – 29 years old

Jorginho is the only player on the list who has won the Champions League and the European Championships this year. This alone is enough to make the Italian player a contender for the Ballon d'Or. Crucial for both Chelsea and Italy, the midfielder has proved that he is one of the best around. It's worth noting, however, that players in his position don't tend to pick up individual awards. Often unfairly so, as Sergio Busquets might argue.

Jorginho durante el choque con Turquía

| EFE

N'Golo Kanté – 30 years old

The French midfielder finds himself in a similar situation to his Chelsea team mate. He was crucial in the Blues' Champions League run, where they lifted the trophy against all odds. He struggled to find form at the start of the season, but Tuchel's set-up brought out the best in this charismatic player in the second half of the season, who doesn't shy away from challenges and demonstrates an exceptional work rate. France's early elimination from Euro 2020, as is the case with his compatriots mentioned above, will probably work against him in the battle for the Ballon d'Or.

Kanté en la concentración con Francia

| AFP

Erling Braut Haaland – 20 years old

We shouldn't normalise what Haaland is achieving. 41 goals and 12 assists for a striker at this point in his career is simply astonishing. Without him, Borussia Dortmund would have had no chance of qualifying for the Champions League. It's a shame that we weren't able to enjoy him in this summer's European Championships. It's perhaps too early to consider him as a genuine contender for the Ballon d'Or, especially when you consider that he only managed to win the German Cup. However, he should definitely be on the shortlist.

Haaland, el deseado

| EFE

Cristiano Ronaldo – 36 years old

From one extreme to the other. It seems that time doesn't pass for the Portuguese striker. He was the top scorer at Euro 2020 with five goals, despite his side being knocked out at the quarter final stage. His Juventus side haven't been as dominant and competitive as he would have liked (this season they only managed to pick up the Coppa Italia and the Super Cup), but you can't argue with his numbers. Last season, Ronaldo registered 36 goals for the Turin-based club. However, his influence on the team's play continues to dwindle, with his goals masking his performances. He is clearly not contributing as much as when he was at his peak, when he was able to beat Leo Messi to several Ballon d'Ors.

Cristiano durante el encuentro ante Bélgica

| Europa Press

Kevin de Bruyne – 30 years old

Manchester City were one step away from an almost perfect season. Their defeat in the Champions League final spoiled a campaign that would have gone down in the history of English football. De Bruyne was a real leader for City last season, winning the Premier League and the League Cup. Under the orders of Pep Guardiola, the Belgian maestro has reached new levels and consolidated himself as one of the best players in the world. During the final weeks of the season, he was often injured as a result of heavy challenges from his opponents. His lack of fitness also prevented him from leading Belgium to international glory this summer.

De Bruyne celebrando su gol ante Dinamarca

| EFE

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